On August 15, former President Bill Clinton addressed a world AIDS conference in Toronto. "In just a few days, I will be 60 years old. I hate it, but it's true," he stated. "For most of my working life, I was the youngest person doing what I was doing. Then one day I woke up and I was the oldest person in every room. Now that I have more days behind me than ahead of me, I try to wake up with a discipline of gratitude every day."
Turning 60 is certainly a bummer for a man as reliant on his prostate as Clinton is. Nonetheless, Clinton's speech was a stunning testament to his egocentricity. Who whines about a post-midlife crisis while discussing a disease that has pushed Angola's average life span to 39.9 years, Zambia's to 39.7, and Zimbabwe's to 37.9? Who tells a roomful of people worried about the devastation caused by a global plague that he is personally devastated by having another birthday?
Bill Clinton, that's who. And yet, somehow, Americans still miss Bill Clinton. In a May 2006 poll, Americans stated they favored Clinton over President Bush on the economy (63 percent to 26 percent), foreign affairs (56 percent to 32 percent) and even on truthfulness (46 percent to 41 percent) -- this last question regarding a man who was impeached by the House of Representatives for committing perjury, a man who openly lied to the American people.
Why do Americans miss Clinton? The results of one of the poll's questions are illuminating. Apparently, Americans feel that Clinton was superior at solving the problems of ordinary Americans by a margin of 62 percent to 25 percent. Why would they feel that way? President Bush signed the most comprehensive Medicare bill since Medicare's founding; he has signed a massive education-spending bill; he has been more liberal on social spending than his predecessor was.
No doubt the unpopular war in Iraq skews President Bush's numbers, but there is something more going on: Americans relate to President Clinton in a unique way. They relate to him because, despite his Ivy League education, he acts like just another guy at the bar, like the quirky but caring uncle everyone remembers from Thanksgiving dinner. He complains about aging. He lies about his sex life. He listens and pats hands. He tears up in front of the cameras on a regular basis.
And we elected him president. Twice. The American people enjoyed the luxury of feminization in the aftermath of the Cold War. When Edmund Muskie cried while defending his wife, Jane, from media attacks during the 1972 presidential primaries, his campaign collapsed. Americans simply could not afford a man who wept under pressure during a Cold War with the Soviets. Clinton had the benefit of the post-Cold War economic boom and foreign policy reorganization. We lived in a new world, and perhaps a kinder, gentler president -- a man who could weep with Third Worlders, who could hug our quasi-enemies into submission -- would fit the times.
Now, however, we live once again in dangerous times. The American public, which grew accustomed to Dr. Phil as president in the 1990s, now wants a combination of Dr. Phil and Winston Churchill. Bush patterns himself after Churchill, but doesn't pay a lot of attention to Dr. Phil. Thus the left's constant focus on the "smirking chimp" inhabiting the White House. Thus the constant emphasis on President Bush's "heartless" foreign policy, focused less on the blather of the United Nations and more on American military power. Thus the constant emphasis on President Bush's supposed "egotism" for refusing to apologize for each and every American casualty.
It is worth remembering that muscular defense of American freedoms is not egocentric. Clintonesque self-indulgent retreat into tears and hugs in the face of hardship, however, is textbook narcissism. We no longer need and can no longer afford a president who publicly agonizes over turning 60. We need Churchill, not Dr. Phil. We need Bush, not Clinton.